The following piece was included as a letter to the editor in both The Cranford Chronicle and The Suburban News, two of the local weeklies which cover the town where I work. It was also printed in Kenilworth Business Life, a monthly publication of the local Chamber of Commerce. My original plan was to post this to Dead Guy during a week when I was really pressed for time but I decided that it was more appropriate to use it now while the holidays are still fresh in everyone's mind.
As is the case with many public libraries, senior citizens make up a large proportion of the people who use the Kenilworth Public Library. Of all our adult patrons, the seniors are the ones who are less likely to be in a rush when they stop by; they are more inclined to spend time browsing the shelves, chatting with members of the staff or each other, or just hanging out for a while to read newspapers or magazines. The seniors also make more frequent visits to the library than do many of our younger adult patrons who are still in that stage of life that keeps them busy with work and family responsibilities. Because of this, we have the opportunity to get to know many of our senior patrons pretty well.
Although I have established friendships with library patrons of a variety of ages, the connections I have made with older visitors to the library are among my most memorable. My first such friendship originated at my first professional job out of library school; a rather crotchety gentleman who was nearly 50 years my senior and a frequent visitor to the reference desk was the first person I encountered who made me realize that the issue of age was really irrelevant to the development of a friendship. Although I later moved on to a position at a different library, this gentleman and I continued to maintain our friendship mostly by telephone and when he died a few years after that, it was from his wife that I received a personal invitation to attend the small memorial service at their home that was intended for close family and friends.
Many years have passed since then and I am now much closer in age to my senior library patrons than I am to the young librarian that I was all those years ago. I have been at the Kenilworth Public Library for nearly 15 years now, far longer than I have worked anyplace else, so this brings me - as it must - to the sadness that I feel when we lose one of our regular patrons to illness, infirmity and eventually death. Librarians often joke about those situations we occasionally end up dealing with but for which we’ve had no special training – the overflowing toilets, dead animals in the parking lot, circulation desk computers that suddenly crash in the middle of a busy afternoon - classifying these events as “things they don’t teach you about in library school.” Unfortunately, librarians are not nearly as comfortable discussing with each other the sadness and loss we feel when we lose a patron who, over a period of many years, had become a regular presence in our work environment.
During the past couple of years, my library has lost more than a few of our regulars so it is with sadness this holiday season that I reflect on the fact that John is never going to get to enjoy those new armchairs that were just ordered for his favorite reading spot, that Lenore was not around to celebrate the recent dedication of the beautiful new sculpture that was installed on the library’s front lawn, and that Marian, Joe and Teresa all were absent from this year’s book group holiday party. We also know that it’s going to take a long time for staff members to stop automatically thinking of Mr. V and Ms. G (who died way too young) when books by their favorite authors are added to our collection. At this time of year we also especially miss Irma who was not only a regular library patron but also a former member of our staff.
I have come to recognize that there is no way that any of this could have been taught in library school – it can only be learned on the job. As sad as this is, I would not want to have it any other way.